OVERVIEW OF THE CRISIS
Approximately 181,858 people (9.5 per cent of the total population) are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance in The Gambia. This figure takes into account the food insecurity targets, which include 128,258 in phase 2 and 53,600 in Phase 3 classification of the Cadre Harmonize. While crop production levels have slightly improved compared to the last cropping season, they remain low compared to the last five year average. Affected households desperately require support to meet immediate food needs, restore livelihoods and enhance their resilience to future shocks and disasters.
Persistent food insecurity needs With a population of roughly 2 million people, the country is considered a low-income with high poverty levels that contribute to the increasing vulnerability of its population to shocks - an estimated 71 per cent of the population lives below the US$2 per day, (2014 human development index)1 .
Poverty is concentrated in rural areas, particularly among households headed by subsistence farmers and unskilled workers (79.3 per cent and 65.4 per cent, respectively). Of these rural poor, women account for over 50 per cent of the agricultural labour force and represent 70 per cent of unskilled labourers according to a recent study of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)2 .
Nearly 40 per cent of the population in The Gambia is below 15 years, 21 per cent between 15-24 years, and only 3.2 per cent above 65 years. This demographic trend contributes to a high dependency ratio.
Drivers and underlying factors The Gambian agricultural sector is predominantly subsistence, rain fed with very little irrigation or use of improved seeds and fertilizers. Erratic and declining rainfall patterns due to climate change have made the agriculture sector very risky and food security a huge development challenge. Lack of diversification has also led to dependency on a single major cash crop (groundnuts), resulting to a more volatile exchange rate earnings. Cereal yields are generally low, with an average of roughly 1.5 tonnes/Ha compared to an estimated potential of 3-4 tonnes/Ha for cereals. For this reason, food self-sufficiency is relatively low, with an estimated national ratio of about 50 per cent of needs met and the remaining 50 per cent imported. A lack of supporting infrastructure (irrigation, roads, storage, research and development) has also created bottlenecks that limit the growth of the agriculture sector.
All these factors including those highlighted in the graph above converge to contribute to persistent needs of food insecurity in The Gambia, particularly in West Coast, Upper River and North Bank Regions identified as the most affected by the Cadre Harmonize. Consequently, close to 200,000 people will require humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs in 2016.
The Gambia continues to face worrying trends of malnutrition among children under five and pregnant and lactating women. Preliminary findings from the Standardized Monitoring and Assessment of Relief Transitions (SMART) survey (October 2015)3 indicate that the national prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) currently stands at 10.4 percent [95% CI: 9.5 –11.5] and Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) at 2.0 percent [95% CI: 1.6 – 2.5]. These results are slightly high compared to the previous levels of 2012 SMART survey, which stood at 9.9 percent [95% CI: 8.8 – 10.8] GAM and SAM prevalence of 1.6 percent [95% CI: 1.2 – 2.0]. These are very worrying statistics highlighting a serious problem with malnutrition in the country.
In this regard, an estimated 116,899 children under five and pregnant and lactating women are at risk of acute malnutrition. This is an increase of at least 32,776 persons compared to the 2015 estimates of 84,123 cases of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM). The burden of moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) among children under five is projected at 58,345, while severe acute malnutrition (SAM) is at 10,410; while the burden of malnourished pregnant and lactating women in the reproductive age group (15-49) is estimated at 47,789.
Inadequate access to basic services
Inadequate access to basic services is augmented by factors such as high unemployment rates, lack of women’s empowerment, and social exclusion of vulnerable groups such as people living with disabilities. Estimates done by the Labour Force Survey (LFS) indicate that unemployment rate stands at 29.2 per cent nationally, with the male and female unemployment rates at 20.9 per cent and 38.3 per cent respectively. There is a slight rural-urban difference in unemployment rates with the rural unemployment rate at 31.1 per cent versus 28.4 per cent for urban areas. The youth unemployment rate, defined as between the ages of 13 and 30, stood at 38 per cent and is increasingly seen as the cause for migration, particularly to Europe – an estimated 11,300 people left the country in 2014 While women play a major socio-economic role, they continue to face challenges including lack of access to education (high illiteracy), lack of sufficient access and equal opportunity to work, right to land and property (farmland and credit), low level of awareness of their rights and negative impact of harmful traditional practices such as forced and early marriage. The household chores also contribute to the disempowerment of women and girls as they affect girls’ access to education and women’s possibility to access decent work and remuneration.
Disabled persons in The Gambia, especially women and children, are considered to be among the poorest and most marginalized strata of society and their condition is aggravated by mythical, social and cultural beliefs about persons living with disabilities. Negative social attitudes reinforce tendencies to exclude them from many social development programmes.
The Gambia has an estimated population of 11,426 of refugees . UNHCR continues to provide humanitarian assistance to these populations although majority are now integrated in communities.
Timeline of the crisis (see below)
The food insecurity situation in The Gambia is influenced by various underlying factors that are chronic in nature and particularly affect the rural poor (crop producers). Notably, there has been deterioration in the ability of both rural and urban communities to cope due to recurrent shocks predominantly the SAHEL drought crisis of 2011/2012; whose impact continues to aggravate the food and nutrition security of the most vulnerable populations in the country. The last two agricultural seasons have also suffered shocks which had some impact on the household food security and in turn, affecting children’s nutrition as well as access to basic social services. For instance, the late and erratic rains during the planting season in 2014 led to a significant drop in crop production; whilst the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) scare over the same period, led to a massive drop in tourism income which is a major foreign exchange earner for The Gambian economy.
In 2015, the cropping season has witnessed late but heavy downpours compared to the last three years. This continuous heavy rainfall had some negative impact on crops such as early millet, maize and groundnut. Floods were also experienced across the country, especially the swampy ecologies of the Central River Regions, Upper River Region, Lower River Region and North Bank Region. Most rice fields in the low lying areas along the river were flooded thereby hampering some cultivation activities.
Furthermore, economic stagnation and local currency volatility has led to increases in commodity prices resulting in a greater percentage of household income being spent on food.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.